At some point, every nursing mother will need to express milk for feedings during her separation from her infant. This separation may be short and infrequent such as a "night out" or may be a longer, more permanent situation such as employment. Breast pumps are not a replacement for breastfeeding. Choosing the right pump for your needs is based on convenience, cost, comfort, and efficiency.
It is important that you understand the basics of a breast pump to avoid trauma to your breasts or low milk supply from inadequate pumping. Breast pumps create suction through the mechanics of the pump, which varies for each brand and model of pump available. It has been determined that a newborn suckles with a pressure of 50 to 220 mm Hg and has a distinctive pattern of suction and release cycles. The best pumps try to mimic the suction strength and cycling of a newborn. Suction that exceeds 220 mm Hg can traumatize the breast and nipple, while suction that is less than 150 mm Hg may not be strong enough for long-term pumping. The number of cycles that a pump has determines its efficiency. A newborn has about 60 cycles per minute when breastfeeding. Pumps currently available have cycles ranging from 2 to 84 per minute. The less a pumps cycles, the longer it will take to empty the breast. However, pumping at an 84 cycle per minute rate may not increase efficiency but could cause trauma and discomfort. The suction and release cycles are controlled by the mother on manual pumps. Pressures can be exceedingly high (>400 mm Hg) with these pumps.
Before choosing a breast pump, you should consider the following questions.
- Will you use the pump on a short-term or long-term basis?
- Does the pump effectively and efficiently empty the breast?
- How much does the pump cost?
- Is the pump easy to clean?
- Is the milk collected into a special container or a standard baby bottle?
- Can both breasts be pumped at the same time?
- Is the pump heavy or cumbersome?
- Are there written instructions with the pump, including the suction pressures and number of cycles per minute?
- Are replacement parts available?
- Does the pump cycle automatically or do you have to release the suction manually?
- How many suction cycles are there per minute?
- Is it comfortable to use the pump?
- Can the pump be operated with one hand?